All posts by Rachel van Koningsveld

Critical care registered nurse from Dallas, Texas who made Aliyah. Follow me on my journey, and fall in love with the land of Israel! Hopefully my story can inspire and encourage others to make return home as well. Feel free to send me any questions, or even your own story so I can share it here!

How to Get Married in Israel During COVID-19

My husband and I were matched online through sister sites Saw You At Sinai and See You in Israel (co-created by Nefesh B’Nefesh) on January 15, 2020. I was a critical care nurse from Texas, and Akiva was a policy officer for CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group in the Netherlands. It was a perfect match. We had the same beliefs, values, religious observance, politics, and goals in life. After exchanging a few texts and calling a few times, it became clear that we had the exact same sense of humor as well! The only problem was we were living in two different countries, literally an ocean apart. Hearing I was planning a trip to Israel, Akiva decided to meet me there, and we met in person in Jerusalem. We went on two dates before returning to our respective countries. Then COVID-19 hit, and international travel was banned. We continued texting back and forth and making video calls that would last over 6 hours. Quite a feat considering a time difference of seven hours! We fell in love over our mutual love of Hashem, Israel, the Jewish people, and good memes. We met each other’s family over Zoom.

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I Made Aliyah, What Now?

So you made it to your aliyah flight! You brought your spouse, kids, luggage, and important documents (including the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and your receipt of having completed the isolation form within 24 hours of your flight), and you’re wondering to yourself what it’s going to look like when you arrive. How does it all work when you land?

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Making Aliyah and Getting Engaged During a Pandemic

After gathering all of my documents and submitting my application for Aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, I interviewed with The Jewish Agency over Zoom. The meeting went smoothly, and the questions were straightforward, such as where you think you’ll live, what kind of work you do, why you want to make Aliyah, and verifying your Jewish status. Depending on when your expected Aliyah date is, the Jewish Agency will then send you a “Mazal Tov” email approving your eligibility for Aliyah. This Mazal Tov email is valid for one year, after which you must reapply to make Aliyah. My Zoom meeting took place on July 31, and I received my Mazal Tov email on August 10. But because my parents’ (who also had their Zoom meeting on July 31) expected Aliyah date isn’t until November, they didn’t receive their Mazal Tov letter until September 10. A lot of people are making Aliyah now, and the Jewish Agency has to prioritize approvals based on expected Aliyah dates.

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My Experience at the Kotel

Technically my first time at the Kotel was in 2002. I was six years old and don’t remember much from the experience. I do remember it being very crowded, my mother had my brother and I wearing harnesses that resembled dog leashes so that we wouldn’t be separated. But this isn’t the topic of this post. No, my first true experience at the Kotel was during my Birthright trip in 2018.

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My Parents’ Pilot Trip

I recently took my parents to Israel to visit my brother. It was the only time all three of us would be able to come. It was also the first time my parents had been to Israel since 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. There are many more stores with a wider variety of goods, traffic has skyrocketed, and thankfully, there are no more bus bombings. We were there to see my brother, but we also made it their pilot trip. This would probably be their only chance to visit Israel before making Aliyah, and they needed to experience the country as it is now.

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Your Story: Natan Bessner

My name’s Natan Bessner. I’m 23, and I made aliyah in August 2015 from Montreal after spending a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. That summer Operation Protective Edge broke out, and the disconnect upset me. I decided to return to Israel ASAP. Growing up I went to a Zionist school, took part in Bnei Akiva, and my parents always fostered the importance of the Jewish State. All of these reinforced my need to get back.

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How To Start Your Aliyah Story

Make sure you are eligible for Aliyah:

All Jews are eligible to make Aliyah under the Law of Return. You will need to provide documentation proving your status to both Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. This is usually just a letter from your rabbi attesting that you are, in fact Jewish. If you converted to Judaism, you are eligible for Aliyah whether you had a Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox conversion. You will need to provide proof of your conversion as well, so be sure to have your original conversion documents. Note that this means you are eligible for Aliyah, not that you will necessarily be considered Jewish in Israel. The Israeli Rabbinate only recognizes Orthodox conversions from a select number of Diaspora rabbis. If you had a non-orthodox conversion or your Orthodox rabbi is not on the approved list, you may have to go through another conversion process in Israel if you want to live as part of a religious community or marry another Jew within Israel. In addition to this, a non-Jew may make Aliyah if they have a Jewish spouse, parent, or grandparent.

Complete your Aliyah Application through Nefesh B’Nefesh (if you live in the US, Canada, or the UK):

This is actually a reasonably quick and easy step to finish. Make an account with Nefesh B’Nefesh and browse through some of the questions on the application. The more family members on the application, the longer the process will take, but all in all the website is very user-friendly and simple to complete.

Speak with Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers through online meetings, and attend the informative webinars offered on the site for free:

Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in helping people make Aliyah. As your Aliyah date approaches, they increasingly reach out to see where you are in the process and are available for any assistance you’ll need. There’s also an archive on their website filled with several hours of recorded webinars. These range over all kinds of topics, from finding a place to live and budgeting to healthcare and leasing a car.

Make a pilot trip (or several) to Israel. Get a feel of the different communities to help you figure out where you want to live:

I cannot stress enough the importance of making a pilot trip to Israel. If you are financially able to make a pilot trip before Aliyah- do it. If you cannot afford a pilot trip, reach out to Nefesh B’Nefesh and they MAY be able to help you find a way to get a subsidized trip. This is not a guarantee, though. Pilot trips are essential for understanding where you are moving to, the culture, researching job opportunities, and schools for your children. I recently took my parents on their first pilot trip to Israel. But making Aliyah without a pilot trip is like moving blind and should be avoided if at all possible. Update: Unfortunately, this is no longer an option due to COVID-19. Israel is not issuing any tourist visas at this time.

Meet with the Jewish Agency:

You will need to bring your original documents in order for them to verify you are eligible for Aliyah. If you don’t live in the US, Canada, or the UK you will start your Aliyah process by contacting the Jewish Agency. Once the Jewish Agency approves you, you are effectively approved for Aliyah. Update: The Jewish Agency is now conducting meetings online via Zoom. You will have to mail your documents to them via FedEx.

Obtain Your Aliyah Visa:

After you receive your “mazal tov” email (Aliyah approval) from the Jewish Agency, you will send (via FedEx) the relevant documents to your assigned Israeli consulate to get an Aliyah visa. The consulates are often very busy, and it can take a long time before they send your visa and return your documents. The visa itself is a sticker that they stick on a page inside your passport. Once your visa is issued, it is only valid for 6 months. If you do not make Aliyah within that time, you will need to apply for another Aliyah visa. 

Pick a Flight Date:

After you have been approved for Aliyah, your Aliyah profile on NBN will have a new section where you can pick your flight. You’ll be able to choose between different dates, as well as the location of your Aliyah flight. If you don’t live near one of the Aliyah airports, you’ll need to coordinate with Nefesh B’Nefesh to schedule an appropriate connecting flight. Update: Nefesh B’Nefesh now has flights available from El Al and United airlines. Each airline has its own rules regarding baggage. Contact the NBN flight coordinator for up to date information.

Update: Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Because the border is closed to everyone except Israeli citizens and those making aliyah, an additional vetting process is required before you are allowed to enter the country. After you receive your visa and email a copy of it to your NBN advisor, they will forward it to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They will then reply with a letter stating you are permitted to enter the country. This letter contains a list of everyone on your flight who is making Aliyah, along with their passport numbers (don’t be alarmed). You will need this letter in hand at the gate prior to boarding your flight. It is only valid for 2 weeks. Afterward you will need to have another one issued.

Update: Isolation Form

The very last thing you need to do before traveling to the airport is filling out the isolation form. This form will be emailed to you 24 hours before your flight (you cannot complete it before then). The form declares where you will be staying for bidud (quarantine) upon arrival. It is done last minute so that you fill in the most up to date information. You are required to fill in a zip code (7 digits) for the address. If you only have 5 digits, you can tack on two zeros at the end. After completing the form, remember to print the receipt and bring it to the airport with you.

Start packing, and good luck!

What About My Dog?

I have a dog. Actually he belongs to my brother, but he acts like a family dog. His name is Romeo, and just as his name suggests he is extremely loving and affectionate. We could not imagine making Aliyah without him; he is as much a member of our family as any of us. It’s no surprise then that he will be a part of our Aliyah story. In preparation for this, I researched what it will take to bring him with us.

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